If you never saw ‘Swami Salami’ perform don’t worry about it, I didn’t either, but it isn’t going to stop me attempting to do justice to the man beneath the turban. Maybe you know him better as the self proclaimed fraud and charlatan “Dr. Sigmund Fraud.” However you slice the salami or diagnose the Dr. you arrive at the same man whose given name was Terry Nosek. “Swami Salami” was just another of Nosek’s creations and defined the character he used when performing kids shows in Chicago; often assisted by his daughter Colleen.
During the mid-80s to the mid-90s I was a frequent performer at the various comedy clubs in Las Vegas. I always enjoyed these dates and was looking forward to the next engagement by the end of the current one. While working at “Bally’s Hotel and Casino” I got to know the fine close-up magician Frank Zak. Frank worked at Bally’s in the “Eye in the Sky” room above the casino floor observing the gaming and looked for potential cheats: It was Zak who introduced me to Terry Nosek.
In 1990 I decided to continue the “Celebrity Séance Series” that began in 1978 when I brought Buddy Holly back onstage at the “Ice House” in Los Angeles. I chose the late, great comedian Lenny Bruce to rejoin us on this occasion. This séance was to be jointly presented with my friend the master mentalist Ross Johnson.
I had recently purchased Eugene Burger’s seminal book Spirit Theater and planned to incorporate an attack of ghostly birds during the séance when we unwittingly awakened Alfred Hitchcock from his slumbers. This addition meant I needed someone in the audience to coordinate this aerial assault. Frank Zak suggested I should meet a certain Terry Nosek and that he might be perfect to act as our undercover man. Running Terry’s name by Ross he instantly responded with great deal of enthusiasm and confirmed that Terry Nosek was indeed the perfect person for this curious mission. How right he was!
There is a whole separate story to be told about the strange event that we collaborated on but it will be told on another occasion. What I can definitely say is that by the time we had re-introduced Lenny Bruce to a Vegas audience I had met someone who would become one of my dearest friends and most trusted advisors.
I am not a particularly friendly person. I have managed to make a fine living in magic without ever getting too close to many magicians. I prize my outsider status in magic and look on it as one of my strengths. However Terry got under my radar almost instantly and became one of only three magicians that I consider part of my true inner circle. Enough about me: now I have set the stage let me tell you about Terry.
Terry Nosek was as knowledgeable about mentalism as anyone I have ever met but as those who knew him tell you he had a sense of humor that worked overtime. There was always a twinkle in his eye and he never failed to see a quirky humorous side to any situation.
One of the first gifts that Terry casually gave me was the floppy disc of a computerized comedy program he had created. The program consisted of a database of jokes that could be used to find the right joke for any occasion. It was a really neat idea.
A native of Chicago, before moving to Las Vegas Terry performed his act in some of Chicago’s finest comedy clubs in the city working alongside top comedy acts. To be able to work side by side with comedians in this kind of venues meant that you were good. To be able to do this while presenting mentalism meant you were bloody good!
Soon after making Terry’s acquaintance I realized that I had known him longer than I realized. During my travels I had picked up a loose-leaf book with the unlikely title of The Mental Mysteries of Dr. Signund Fraud. I picked it up because I loved the title and also because it was the first book dedicated to comedy mentalism that I had ever seen. It was well written and contained beautifully constructed routines. I read it cover to cover and appreciated the way the author managed to make the plots of his tricks funny but keep the mentalism strong. One day the penny dropped and I realized that Sigmund and Terry were one and the same person.
Until recently no matter what problem I had in regard to any piece of magic that I wanted to perform I had a sure fire two-part system to come up with a solution. First I would call Billy McComb and listen to what he had to say on the matter and after I had digested this information I would call Terry and listen to what he had to say about the matter.
The interesting thing about Terry was that his input didn’t finish with the spoken word and inevitably shortly after we spoke an envelope would arrive in my postbox filled with relevant research and information. I would look at the carefully duplicated pages inside the manila envelope and wonder how long it had taken him to assemble them. There would usually be a short note in Terry’s neat handwriting saying something simple like, “I thought this might be of interest.” I was always touched by the care he had spent putting together his ‘briefing’ for me.
For a while Terry and his smart and charming wife Barbara hosted a segment on a radio show broadcast live from the “Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino” in Las Vegas. Each week Terry and Barbara interviewed a guest and packed more magic news and views into five minutes than seemed possible. Nothing was left to chance and they sat behind the microphone armed with pages of notes and a stopwatch. I always looked forward to being interviewed because I loved to see the research they had done to enable them to get some new answers from an old friend. Honesty forces me to admit the other reason I eagerly awaited a call to appear on their show was that during the taping a gourmet luncheon was served. The food and the company were great and it was a perfect Saturday lunch date. This event was almost an extension of the wonderful parties they hosted in their home which were attended by an eclectic blend of magicians and non-magicians.
The only topic that Nosek and I chose to agree to disagree on was metaphysical matters. Terry was an avid non-believer who couldn’t begin to understand my tendency towards keeping an open mind towards some areas that he openly scoffed at. He referred to me as a‘shut-eye’ which is someone who closes his eyes to the obvious lack of reality in the unseen. I always countered by saying, “At least I’m not a shut mind!” in truth we couldn’t really seriously disagree on anything and we preferred to allow plenty of latitude in each other’s unexplainable cogitation in these particular areas.
Strangely enough, or maybe not, Terry was a superb ‘Walk Around Psychic’ at social events and often made believers of the crowd. He invented a system of Chinese numerology that was fast, effective and utterly convincing. Combined with his unique presentation of strolling mind reading Nosek created a new and highly effective form of wandering entertainment. In fact it was so successful that I would sometimes tease him that he really was psychic but just wouldn’t acknowledge it. I might even secretly believe it: but hey I’m shut-eye!
When I was preparing to write this article I asked Nosek’s wife Barbara what she thought Terry might have been proudest of. After a moments thought she replied, “The way he single handedly raised his three young children.” I was not a part of Terry’s life during his Chicago years but I realized instantly she was right. I know enough about Terry’s substance and style to realize that he must have applied himself to this difficult task in the same selfless and tireless manner he approached everything else in his life.
Terry liked to conceal his true identity behind a humorous alter ego when he performed. In much the same way his quiet, modest and unassuming manner concealed a very unique and special human being. He was as generous, helpful, considerate and knowledgeable as any one I have known. A writer, performer and inexhaustible storehouse of magical knowledge Terry was a true gentleman.
I’m sure Terry would have been a little embarrassed if he had read these words so let me just end this appreciation with the toast I mentioned in the title. “Cheers to Swami Salami!”